Tag Archives: roundabout


22 Jan

Being a driver in Nairobi for over ten years has made me a better cyclist; ability to know how Nairobi drivers think and in some cases predict their behaviour (with the exception of the erratic matatu and taxi cab drivers) has helped me survive this long, as a daily cycle-commuter. The only cyclist I knew of when I turned to cycling, gave me two major tips: “Keep to the left of traffic” and “Look over your shoulder to see what’s happening” (Thanks for the encouragement Allan G.). After  a few months of cycling I have some more survival tips to share: About drivers:

  • Drivers always underestimate your speed (2o-30km/hr depending on terrain gradient, your strength and stamina) approaching a junction and may cut you off as they turn left, leaving you in a heap, or worse, crashed by the next car. You need to show the driver coming up behind you, early, that you do not intend to turn left into a junction, just in case he/she does. It may be difficult at first controlling the bike with one hand while signalling… practice, practice away from traffic.
  • Some drivers may hoot as they come up behind you, mostly because they are nervous about your riding skills. Stay calm.
  • Listen to the sound of the engine as a vehicle approaches behind you to determine the size of the vehicle and prepare to make more room for the trucks, large SUVs and buses if the road is a narrow two-way. For the large SUVs and small canter trucks you need only hug the curb tighter with the left pedal raised to avoid scrapping the curb block and getting thrown off balance. For the large trucks, 62-seater buses and lorries, you may need to get off the curb side and onto the pedestrian footpath completely, especially if the oncoming traffic is busy. The sound of the engine can also tell you if the driver is speeding or slowing down. If they are slowing down, it may be because they are finding you unpredictable, maybe wobbly, as you navigate the ruts in the road. In this case you may need to encourage them to overtake you by gesturing with your hand in a “come” signal.
  • For the point above; note the sections in the curb of your regular route (s) that can allow you a quick escape when you need to. Be prepared to request the driver to slow down to give you time to move, by making the “slow down” hand signal.

Over taking a slow driver or riding through slow traffic: Cyclists in Kenya are expected to be riding along the left, near the curb. In Kenya, this is the driver’s blind side, they will not be expecting you to be there if they haven’t yet seen you as they came up behind you (assuming it’s in slow traffic and you are moving faster than the cars). The first rule is: Always assume the driver is using his/her mobile phone as they drive (nowadays). This means they are distracted and may begin to “hug” the curb as you come along on the left.

  • Look through the rear windshield or rear passenger door window (which is hopefully not tinted) to see what is happening in the car before you overtake on the left; is it an animated conversation, is driver looking back into back seat at a passenger as they converse, is the driver on his/her cell phone (not on hands-free mode), adjusting the radio?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Once, along Dennis Pritt Road (a very narrow two-way), as I came down a gentle incline on the left behind a blue Volkswagen Golf in slow morning traffic, it suddenly started to list towards the curb, I braked suddenly and nearly hit the said car’s left tail light with my aluminum, right handle-bar. Upon over taking the female driver, on the right along the yellow line, as there was no room on the left, I looked in through the driver’s window to see her talking to a toddler in the passenger seat, too small for me to have seen through the rear wind shield!
  • The matatus (public transport vehicles) leave the most room on the left for cyclists in areas with a high curb, always ready to overlap on the wrong side even on a narrow two-way road. Never ever ever overtake a matatu in slow traffic on the right along the yellow line, this especially if the oncoming traffic side is clear.
  • On the main highway, ensure that you do your best to get to the traffic lights whenever the flow of traffic is stopped, by cycling between cars on the white lines, staying as close to the left lane as possible. Look out for pedestrians crossing randomly between cars, motor cyclists also moving between the lanes and passengers alighting from stationary buses, matatus or personal cars and the odd truck driver urinating by his truck (I kid you not!).

Road use:

  • Beginner: The best roads to cycle along as a novice commuter, believe it or not, are the main roads and the highway; the lanes are wider so you have more room on the left. The start-stop movement gives the cyclist opportunity to move further forward. Ensure that you are visible by wearing reflective clothing and be predictable. One of my favourite roads is the lower section of Ngong Road (Nairobi Baptist – Adams arcade). When I mentioned Ngong Road to a visiting German friend, “But it’s so p’lluted!” she exclaimed. I pointed out the spaces in the paving blocks that help me escape when things get hairy.
  • Beginner: Sunday Mornings and bank holidays are the best to venture out and build on your commuter confidence as traffic is low or at least sparse.
  • Navigating roundabouts the first time can be daunting. To begin with, stay behind the trailer truck at the head of traffic as it will very likely go straight along the left lane, where you already are. Use the truck to shield you as the traffic lights go green. The motorists on the left approach to roundabout are least likely to dash across if a truck is coming up, giving you time to get used to the roundabout. This article outlines how to deal with large vehicles. You are on the left lane and the driver nearest to you and behind you are likely to be turning left, ensure that you hand signal to indicate that you are going straight, so that the driver behind you gives you time to go forward. If it is a large truck stay behind it to allow it to turn left or go straight before you.
  • Matatus (public transport vehicle), as earlier indicated, are driven erratically and recklessly, and we are all aware that their driving can inspire even the most pious amongst us to let out choice expletives at the driver. If you ride along routes with heavy matatu and mini bus presence, be patient and friendly. Insulting a matatu driver could land you in casualty.

I met a European guy at a bike repair shop who had been a cyclists in Nairobi for about six months. He had recently been hospitalized for a broken rib after being involved in a bike crash… He did not want to go into the details of the accident with me. Talking to the bike repair mech, who had overheard our conversation,  I found out that the rider had a habit of having altercations with matatu drivers, and got swiped by one.

  • Note the flaws in the paving blocks along the curb, they can be the only thing between saving your life and a crash in case a vehicle is overlapping on the wrong side as another comes up behind you. A simple thing such as an inadvertent gap is sufficient to keep you moving as you escape, try try not to stop. Now that Nairobi is getting a road networks facelift, I am going to miss the flaws in the paving that have been very convenient so far.
  • Look back over your right shoulder from time to time to see what’s happening behind you. It takes a bit of practice to stay your course while glancing over your shoulder.

In case of an accident: The bicycle has no clearly demarcated place on Kenyan roads (with the exception of Thika Road, at the time of writing this), you make your place by being respectful and mindful of other road users, being predictable (hand signals) and wearing clothing that keeps you visible as you go.

  • In the event of a crash, depending on how alert and injured you are, you are likely to be robbed of your possessions including your bike. always have your identity document preferably in a pocket in your clothing.
  • Your bike may not be insured, make sure you have an idea of how much it would take to replace it.

Update  July 2013: In Australia, the Victoria authorities introduced a new guide for road sharing, it can work here too.

~ __0 _-\<,_ (*)/ (*)  Enjoy the ride!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi! and beyond!


10 Apr

Cycling up and down Uhuru Highway was supposed to be the most daunting ride in my cycling-unschooled mind. Turns out it’s much easier than riding on any other road in Nairobi.

Why is it easier?

It’s smooth surfaced, has wide lanes, has relatively slower traffic and long stopping intervals to allow a cyclist to get to the head of traffic, has a great side-walk that is hardly occupied by pedestrians for when things get a little crowded (except in the early morning and evenings), there are no bus stops so no matatus (Public Service Vehicles) making sudden stops to drop and pick passengers, in wet weather the better (and I mean “better”tongue in cheek) drainage on Uhuru Highway ensures rain water does not sit along the curb/gutter (hate truck/lorry splash) and there is little tire-unfriendly gutter debris.

Made it sound good, eh. Wait, wait…

Some bright soul dug up the lovely freshly laid pavement blocks/tiles (by the Chinese) 4-5 years ago. The piles of soil make it particularly difficult for pedestrians to navigate especially in wet weather...On a mountain bike it's relatively easy, to escape traffic and get to the head of traffic. Incase you are wondering why there is so much road and curb side debris, it's because this section of the highway has Marabou stocks inhabiting the Acacia thorn trees above... Watch out for thorns.

Cyclists in Nairobi don’t have the luxury of designated cycling infrastructure – separate lanes, lights, parking options, etc. The average cyclist has to ride along the gutter. Hugging the curb as tightly as possible along some narrower roads. One skill that has come in handy is flexing my pedals parallel to each other to avoid scrapping the left pedal on the curb paving block.

On Uhuru highway, the downsides include, numerous trailers on the left lane, deeply set manholes/drainage holes that you have to scoot around as quickly as possible as cars rush past at over eighty kilometres per hour. Ole wako (Woe unto you) if it’s a giant bus or trailer on the down hill decent towards Bunyala Road.

A quick glance over the shoulder helps to gauge how far, how big and fast the other vehicle coming up behind you is, as you slow down approaching a deep-set manhole. I  relax if it’s a motor bike and tense up if it’s a sixty-two sitter bus or a trailer. Another great relief is the hand cart pullers who use the highway; they slow down traffic on the left lane enough to allow me to safely over take the handcart.

Uhuru Highway in Pictures:

Not sure what the digging of the side-walks/pavements was to achieve, but in the wet weather it allows rain water to collect making the gutter area temporarily flood. It doesn't help matters that the drainage manholes are often blocked while the drainage troughs are silted and filled with debris. Motor cyclists never follow the rule that says they must take the lane like other motorized vehicles... SMH.

The nasty blocked drainage manholes make the curb side a tight squeeze for a cyclist. It gets worse in wet weather when they fill up with muddy rain water. Heavy trucks splash through them and onto pedestrians. If not moving too fast I ride through the less deep one, standing off my seat. Ouch!

This one is a nightmare. It's deep, stays wet for days after the rain and this section of the Uhuru Highway is flat so speeds are pretty high making it harder to scoot around quickly enough to get out of the way of traffic ...

Nyayo Stadium roundabout entering Mombasa-Nairobi highway can get hairy. When using this section, if the traffic is at a standstill I weave my way through traffic to the head of traffic and pick my lane depending on the direction I want to take. If turning into Nairobi West, I take the third lane from left. The trouble is on the fourth lane (inner most) there will still be some idiot motorist planning to go straight onto Mombasa Road... I always look at the tail indicator lights of the car slightly ahead, and for any indication that the car may turn towards Mombasa Road. All this time I am frantically indicating with my right hand that I intend to turn right to Nairobi West... This is the second most scary roundabout after the Haile Selassie/Railways one where all the traffic rules go out the drivers' windows - parking on a roundabout, stopping, changing lanes, picking and dropping passengers, you name it and the Matatu drivers do it.

Another nasty, gaping, blocked manhole approaching the Uhuru Highway / Mombasa Road roundabout. This one is by far the largest of them all. What makes it less harmless is its location at the filter lane to Lusaka Road, as cars slow down here. At night however ...

The handcart pullers provide relief from the fast traffic on the Bunyala Road decent of Uhuru Highway. There's a little room on his right to over take as I listen to hear the vehicles behind me slow down. The dust and gravel on the curb side turns to muddy sludge that gets splashed back as the wheels turn... mud guards necessary.

Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!


20 Feb

I have mentioned Mbagathi Way as a cycle friendly route before. Judging from the speeds on the descent, it’s also a motorists’ haven.

Driving down that descent on the inside lane at 80 Km/h, I remeber feeling the flinging force tagging me towards the center… Slow down ya’ll!

Mbagathi Way is probably the only main road in Nairobi that is made entirely of concrete <<< That is not counting the few sections of road paved in concrete blocks in Nairobi. This road was supposed to showcase the possibilities for road construction using concrete. They did a damn good job.

Vision 2030 needs to drive through here.

Besides the cool ramped pedestrian footbridge, I absolutely love the steel pavement foot bridges over the streams.

This past weekend I cycled along Mbagathi Way on the way to Langata Road.

In Pictures:

The top of the Mbagathi Way Pavement looks very inviting. This is the left flank leaving the Kenyatta-Ngong Road roundabout. Whoever thought up the steel foot bridges where the little streams pass was genius!

The largely disused older pedestrian footbridge with steps on either side. People prefer to cross dangerously beneath the bridge. Notice the all covered up concrete wall sides of the bridge.

The paving drops off suddenly where there are entrance ways. Stand up as you drop!

They really went crazy with these little pavement protectors. More bollards! Even harder to scoot around these three as they are close together. Two would have sufficed. Just go slow.

They did a great job on the road but did not expand the foot walk over the railway line bridge. Cars whizz dangerously close to pedestrians as they begin the steep descent. Three weeks ago a car went partially over the railing sending a pedestrian to his death on the railway line below. I hear they picked him up in pieces after the train went over him. There is now missing railing at the accident spot. Don't look down!!

The pedestrian foot bridge has a ramp. I noticed most pedestrians used the ramp going up and the stairs coming down. This bridge was made with Love, it's finished with pink terrazzo!!

On the first landing. I tried cycling up, but it's too steep. Push, iPant. Not sure if the pink terrazzo is safe when wet in the rain.

The landing at the top. The designer built it to be open sided as this area is relatively unsafe. But the city went ahead and allowed billboards to be posted on either side. Retrogressive.Imposing edifice coming up on the other side. The metal barrier running along the middle of the road still does not deter pedestrians from crossing the road beneath the bridge. I spotted a few cyclists carrying their bikes over the barrier too. SMH.

View from the top landing. Stair way on the right. Notice anything peculiar? Yes, no human faeces or litter on the top of this super clean bridge. The open sides and the regular use of the bridge make it impossible to have enough "privacy" for that.

Another steel foot bridge over a tributary stream. The unnecessary bollards are spaced too close together here Not sure what the point is for these two.

A roadside florist/tree nursery owner has turned this section into a lovely tree-lined pedestrian boulevard. Watch out for the low hanging branches!!

...and more bollards! But this entrance just outside Amani Counselling Centre has a pavement ramp! I doubt this was part of the road contractor's design. Great also for the other-wise enabled persons, though those closely placed bollards can make it hard for a wheel chair to get around.

...and more bollards approaching the Mbagathi Way-Lang'ata Road roundabout. These are well placed apart. I can scoot around on the left or right as pedestrians go between them. What's with all the bollards though?!! The lower section of Mbagathi Way is safer for the cyclist to get back on the road as it flattens out and widens entering the roundabout Just after Amani Counselling Centre. Note that the right pavement flank (the ascending side) is too narrow for cyclists and pedestrians in a section where several wall eat into the road reserve. It's safe to cycle on the road on the climbing side as traffic is slower. Careful not to fall into the open gutter!!

This is a highway of many firsts: First pedestrian footbridge with a ramp, first wholly concrete road and the first road to have soooo many bollards!! They are like miniature trees growing out the pavement them bollards!

In retrospect, there are very few trees along this concrete road.

A route that is easy on your bike and on your butt.

Happy cycling in Nairobi!! ♥Nairobi! ♥Cycling!!